Taking a “Vested” Interest in the Mass

Last Sunday my family had a most spiritually uplifting experience at a parish church we were visiting. As we discussed our experience we came up with many things that we liked, including the beautiful church building, traditional music, solid homily, and overall sense of reverence. 

My children noticed one additional factor that made a difference to them (and to my wife and me). Namely, the faithful in the pews were dressed modestly and well–in their “Sunday best”–a phenomenon not experienced in many parishes anymore.

There are many motives for dressing up for Sunday Mass. We want to make the Lord the priority in our lives. More specifically, we understand Sunday Mass to be the high point of our week. What does it say when we put more effort into dressing up for work or school or company than we do for the Lord Himself?

The Catechism discusses the issue in the context of preparation for the worthy reception of the Eucharist: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (no. 1387).

Further, a restored sense of modesty should inform the way we present ourselves in public, especially at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the hot summer months, there is a tendency to “underdress” for Mass, and pastors and parents alike do not sufficiently address this issue. (Bishop Yanta did do a very good job of this a few years ago in this pastoral letter.)

Here I would like to provide an additional incentive to dress well for Mass. I suggest that we consider our Sunday clothes to be a kind of vestment. We rightly associate “vestments” with the special clothes worn by the priest and other ministers on the altar. Yet, the word “vestment” comes from the Latin verb vestire, which more generally means “to clothe.”

How would we feel if our parish priest processed down the aisle at the beginning of Mass wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops? Of course we’d be offended, and rightly so. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides, “vestments should . . . contribute to the beauty of the rite” (no. 297). The flip side is that the lack of appropriate attire on the part of the priest takes away from the beauty of the rite.

When it comes to the lay faithful, the Church in our time has emphasized that our common Baptism is ordered to our full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy. How we conduct ourselves, even the way we dress, is an outward expression of our interior disposition to enter fully into the liturgical action as a participant, and not as a mere spectator.

So, I would suggest that instead of merely throwing on a t-shirt and jeans that we would see getting dressed for Mass as a type of vesting. It can be part of our proximate preparation for Mass and indeed a concrete way in which we prepare to offer ourselves in union with Our Eucharistic Lord (Rom. 12:1). And surely the way that we prepare and carry ourselves can be an edifying witness to others, who in turn may be encouraged to follow suit.

Do clothes make the Mass? No. But how we prepare ourselves, including conscious decisions regarding our attire, is an important first step toward fostering a renewed sense of reverence in our own backyard and indeed in our own hearts.   

10 responses

  1. We attend a 9am Sunday morning Mass at our parish. It’s fairly casual as most parishes are per Leon’s description. The Sunday morning Masses tend to have a greater number of people at least making an attempt to dress nicely (slacks or somewhat nice clothes) than the Saturday and Sunday evening Masses, which are predominated by shorts and flip-flops, and adults are very casual as well.

    I usually dress “business casual” to our parish, because I think a jacket or suit would stand out to such a degree that it would almost draw attention, although I do occasionally bust out a tie, esp. during the winter or a major solemnity (Pentecost, etc.). I’d be curious to hear from others that go to typical parishes such as mine whether they go against the grain and wear a tie or if they do as I do and keep it somewhat dressy but admittedly not dressing for the heavenly banquet with the King.

    Our pastor talked about this on one homily that he gave about liturgical etiquette, but I haven’t noticed any changes in the way most folks dress.
    At another parish here known for its orthodoxy and reverent liturgies there are signs posted as you walk into church with cartoon-style drawings of people showing what dress is acceptable and what isn’t. But most of the people that go there are probably already on-board.

  2. Bravo, excellent and timely article. It is sad that even in the most Catholic of our Catholic universities, this problem is not addressed. I will never forget the Mass we went to where the woman in front of us (who was rather tall and large) was dressed in skimpy shorts as we (who are small and tiny) had to stand behind her with an unappealing view as she bowed during the Creed.

  3. One of the reasons my family attends the Extraordinary Form of the Mass includes the demeanor and dress of our fellow Catholics. At those parishes the sense of the sacred permeates the congregation and they comport themselves as temples of the Holy Spirit. This edifies my children, and I would be remiss to expose them to anything else.

  4. Austin, Excellent point. The correlation between the extraordinary form of the Mass and the typical demeanor and especially dress of the participants is certainly true to my experience, and it would be interesting to explore the reasons for this phenomenon. But the rite itself and not the dress of the faithful should be what distinguishes the extraordinary form from the ordinary form, so I’d like to do what is possible to foster reverence and dignity at all celebrations of the sacred liturgy.

    Arline, At least she bowed for the Creed!

    Greg, Good points. I usually dress more casually during the hot, humid summer months. I pretty much do what you do–I usually wear a nice short-sleeve dress shirt and dress slacks when it’s up over 90. I wear a coat and tie the rest of the time and I don’t feel out of place. And at any rate on this issue I think we need to be thermostats and not thermometers.

  5. Leon, I think rather than focus totally on Sunday Mass and modest and appropriate dress, your arguments should include daily Mass. The Mass is the Mass whether on Sunday or weekdays and I often wonder why we see peddle-pushers, shorts, jeans, tank tops, and the like at daily Mass? Isn’t the sacrifice the same? Every Mass should be special.

    Apart from that comment, it is my sincere belief that most people today have forgotten or do not really know what “Modest” or “Appropriate” dress is! Perhaps one needs to be specific. I know a priest, now deceased, who had a sign printed up very nicely and posted outside the main entrance to the church which explained what sort of attire would not be acceptable and what was required; i.e. no shorts, no jeans, no spaghetti straps or bare backs, skirts at least three inches below the knee, and the like. He, naturally, got a lot of flack from this, but he did not give in and I admired him for it. Like everything else in our present-day parishes, the people need to be catechized! They want to know what is expected of them. There will always be the whiners and complainers, but the people can be won over, for the most part, when taught with charity and fatherly interest in the salvation of their souls.

    In Christ,

    Jane Kosco

  6. I think it would be a good idea if our bishops in this country would speak up on this issue and/or back up the priests who try to persuade their priests to get the people to dress modestly for all masses. I live in Phoenix AZ year round! Trying to find comfortable proper clothing for oneself can be challenging! Our priests should at least make sure that the EM’s wear appropriate clothing when they are serving communion.

  7. Good job, Leon. I have been silent a lot lately because of other commitments. We had a very nice Bible Summer Camp and that always takes a lot our of me.
    This is such a nice, gentle but uplifting blog post, I would like to know if you mind that I have it translated into Spanish for our bulletin, and for the Spanish side of ParishWorld.net.
    Keep up the good work, Leon.

  8. Jane, I agree with you. I emphasized the Sunday Mass because the daily Mass crowd is only a very small percentage of the Sunday Mass crowd and for the most part daily communicants are already on board with this. The Church does emphasize the Lord’s Day and that’s reflected in my family’s attire. We don’t wear our very best clothes to daily Mass, but we do dress neatly and modestly–my daughters are frequently complimented on wearing skirts/dresses rather than shorts or jeans.

    Victres, I think that dress-related issues should always be part of the training given to those who serve on the altar.

    Thanks for your note, Paul. Of course it may be translated into Spanish for ParishWorld.net, which is a wonderful e-publication.

  9. Something that comes to my mind on this issue is that some women, who dress nice for Mass and would otherwise be modest, are wearing blouses that are see-through. The effort is there, yes, but not the consideration.

    I myself one day realized why I shouldn’t be wearing a slitted skirt and genuflecting. I hadn’t even considered the possibilities of problems that might arise until a few months after I had been wearing one. Well, lesson learned!

    Eventually I came to some realization of why Padre Pio was adimate about not admitting women wearing skirts and dresses less than 8 inches below the knee into the confessional. When we sit our skirts and dresses rise.

    On page 63 in Dressing with Dignity (second edition), Colleen Hammond refers to the end of a “Letter to the Bishops” issued on January 12, 1930, by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, ordered by Pope Pius XI. Following, is about females who are not dressed appropriately at Church, Mass and Sacraments:

    Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion and from acting as sponsors at the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation; further, if the offense be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the church.

  10. Dear Brother and Sisters in Christ, I came across this article just after I had vented to the Bishop of My Diocese ( Joliet,Il ) as well as to the Priests and Fellow Parishinors on this topic. I must say after The Blatent ,almost pornographic display of irreverence by what we saw this past Sunday, I was very upset and Dismayed, and it was the last straw for me. My Letter is as Follows…. Hello , at yesterday’s Sunday morning Mass,my husband and I were” humbly offered” a precious opportunity to practice Heroic Virtue , when a family of 3 entered the pew in front of us. First the ‘Father ‘ who was wearing shorts ,along with his son also in shorts, and last but not least the teenage girl dressed in Short Shorts & Flip Flops. I’m talking ‘Daisy Dukes’ er..nearly naked! The Shorts looked more like a wide belt as if they were sprayed on , just like the tanning sprays!So tight it looked as if she wore nothing at all. There was NO WAY to look the other way. A person might as well have been struck blind on the spot , not to have notice this horrible disrespect for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.I was very hurt and disapointed to say the least that this ‘Father’ was so Permissive as to allow her to come to the Holy Mass (UN)dressed in this way. This Atmosphere of Spineless,Commonsenseless, Cowardice regarding beachwear at Mass, MUST STOP! Some idiots say,” Well at least they’re coming to Mass.” I say ,”ENOUGH!”. The People who come to Mass this way are Hurting the rest of the family and can’t be getting much anyway if they think that coming to Mass is as Significant as going to the Beach! Give me a Break! No one in a court of secular law would allow this lack of clothing in a Courtroom or a Boardroom or a Classroom or a Wedding Feast! I’m so Anguished at the lack of guts in these parents and PRIESTS who don’t have the backbone to protect their children from the Scourge of immodesty. Even worse, the husbands who are trying to combat spiritual impurity and it’s in their Faces Literaly at Mass! { Mass should be a SAFE PLACE ! } Well I cried all during and After Mass, I offered that intense pain to Our Lord Jesus Christ for His Good Will to use as He will. I am reminded of The Sexual Abuse Crisis in Our Church and the permissiveness that allowed it to be swept under the rug for so long. We as a Church MUST take back authority in matters of discipline and STOP worrying about ‘offending someone by pointing out the obvious ‘. So what if the church loses some Money. Who Cares! Are not the souls of the flock more important than the PC mindset of have it your way! It’s no wonder why so many Catholic’s leave to go other places where people act like they believe Jesus is in their midst. In some communities this would never even be an “issue”. It would be,,,{ Whap ! Get your self back in there and change those clothes ! You ain’t going nowhere looking like that! } And Guess what Folks , No therapy needed for those Kids whose parents, had the backbone to Parent! Thanks for letting me vent,,A Catholic Whose at The Edge,,,,Sincerly ME

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